The Sacrifice by Jessica Gadziala



Ace, a lover of books, a collector of new editions, tossed all the old ones into boxes and put them in the basement for the witches to read. There was a sink and a toilet. Though I was pretty sure we forgot to add in a shower. Someone suggested it—likely Seven or Minos—but then no one had ever called someone in to work on it between the new arrivals.

It had been at least three witches since I stepped foot in the basement.

I guess I hadn't been prepared to find it any different.

What I found, instead, was that the witches had slowly but surely over time started to make the space more like a home.

Dried flowers were strung and hung from the ceiling. If I remembered correctly, the witches always did some ridiculous ceremony for their 'Sacrifice' in which they filled their hair with flowers. From the looks of things, these flowers had donned the heads of at least six witches. I wondered which one found them all and set to making the place more their own.

The walls, which I remember being painted white after there was some mold issue or another that fucked with the lungs of one of the witches, were suddenly stained in intricate murals. Flowers and trees and woodland creatures. Then, in a break in the woods, a massive pentacle and a couple of rune symbols that I recognized, but didn't know the meanings of.

In front of that pentacle image, someone had set up what appeared to be a makeshift altar.

There was an old broken stoneware bowl that I remembered from one of the many remodels over the years set with various rocks, some worn soft from the river bed that skirted the inside of the woods around the property, and a bushel of dried herbs from the yard, bound with twine. There were feathers gathered in a drinking glass—bright red Cardinal, massive brown and white hawk, a shining black raven. There was even a collection of animal bones stacked in a neat pile, likely remnants of dinner from one of the owls around the property.

We had taken them away from their coven, but clearly not their practice.

Which was why I was here in the first place, I reminded myself, forcing my gaze away from the altar, stepping over the tray of food left at the bottom of the steps to be taken back up. Everything was gone save for the slivers of chicken.

Fucking witches and their refusal to eat meat.

"Hey, where are you?" I called, moving through the mostly-dark space, the only light inside from the minuscule barred windows. "Witch?" I called, squinting into the darkness.

She wasn't on the bed or in the bathroom area.

"Witch!" I roared, blood starting to pump, wondering if she was like that red-headed one who'd tried to escape, slowly tunneling through the wall. Or like that one with the cat-like eyes who'd hanged herself by her sheets.

I didn't care so much about the witches as a whole, but they'd made an agreement; they'd signed a treaty.

One witch each generation.

To come to us.

They didn't get to run away.

They didn't get to kill themselves.

And it pissed me off when one of them thought they could find a way around the rules.

Anger always started the Change.

As my pulse pounded harder, I could feel my fingers elongating, talons poking out through the tips. My teeth got more pointed, my tongue forked. There was a telltale burning in my shoulder blades, flesh separating, making room for the black wings to start protruding out. The crushing ache in the top of my hairline was the small, blunted horns making their way out of my skull.

The fire burned through me, chasing off the cold that had set in from the endless rain. If you touched my skin, it could nearly burn you.

On a roar, I made my way back to the bed, hand grabbing the bottom, flipping it and flinging it across the room, barely even noticing the sound of the wood cracking and splintering all around.

Then there she was.

Curled in the fetal position on the cold, hard floor, her white dress and cloak wrapping up a tall, but slender body.

The flowers were gone from her hair, and the intricate braids the witches were known for were worked free, leaving her raven hair slightly curled, spilling over her shoulders and back, half concealing her face.

At the roar, or at the sudden disappearance of her hiding place, the witch gasped, jumping up, scrambling away until her back hit the wall, bringing her knees in at her chest, and wrapping her arms protectively around them.

Fuck.

She was a looker.

I didn't remember ever thinking that of any of the others. Maybe because by the time they were let out of the basement, they were older, wilder, their spirits so broken that any beauty they might have possessed seemed dusty and faded.